HIV is the name of the virus that causes the disease AIDS. It stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and AIDS stands for Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome. You only develop AIDS in the last stages of an HIV infection. This may take several years.
AIDS was formerly known as GRID, or Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency, but it has been long since discovered that it can affect anyone, and not just gay people. People who are infected by the virus are called HIV-positive or seropositive. They may look perfectly healthy. It’s only in the last stages of AIDS that people may look very sick.
The HIV virus is passed on through blood and other bodily fluids. You can get it by having any type of sex without a condom with someone who is infected. Those having anal or vaginal sex are especially at risk, because there is a higher chance of small tears that can bleed. So to protect yourself (or others, if you are HIV positive), use condoms at all times when having sex and know your status!
There are also ways you can get the virus that aren’t through sex. Drug users sharing needles are at risk. Also, pregnant women or mothers who are breastfeeding can pass on the virus to their babies. But you can’t get infected from kissing (at least, the chances are incredibly tiny), mosquitos bites, sharing a meal with someone, toilet seats, shaking hands or a curse.
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If you are afraid that you might have been exposed to the virus, you should get tested. Many countries have free Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) facilities, but any GP, hospital or health clinic you trust should be able to assist you. Or use Love Matters Kenya's clinic finder found in the top righthand corner of our website. Keep in mind that it may take up to three months to have a reaction showing in your blood.
Even though AIDS is incurable, there are medications you can take called antiretroviral drugs that allow patients to lead a longer life in better health and with less suffering. You may also need to take the meds if you may have been exposed to the virus recently, for example, if a condom breaks. This is called Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). You may be able to avoid infection. Depending on where you live, the availability of the meds may be an issue though.
Currently, 40 million people worldwide are infected with HIV – over 10 million in Asia, and a massive 25 million in Sub-Saharan Africa. There, young women are four time more likely to be infected than young men. Tragically, while the availability of antiretroviral medication in the rest of the world is pretty good, in some of those countries, less than 10 per cent of those infected can get the drugs. In some countries in southern Africa, as many as one in four adults is seropositive.
There are some groups worldwide who are more at risk of getting the infection: sex workers, people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men.
You need to take good care of your body. Eat and live healthily and make sure you don't stress your immune system. Make sure that you take care of any bleeding wounds you may have. Schedule regular appointments with your health provider to monitor your status. If you are on meds, make sure that you take them as prescribed by your doctor. There are mobile phone apps that can help you remember to take your medications at the right time.
You might also want to consider counseling to help you cope with your disease. And while of course it is important to take care of yourself, you must also ensure that you keep others safe. Use a condom every time you have sex.
Are you already infected? Do you have any tips for positive living with HIV? Leave a comment below or join our Facebook discussions.